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Pakistan - May 15, 2019

Voting for Pakistanis living abroad

In October, last year, Pakistani citizens who reside in other countries were finally granted the right to vote. An Internet-Voting (I-Voting) website was soon launched, on the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to facilitate those eager to caste the ballot. But the exercise was preliminary and limited to only 35 constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies, where by-elections were to be held.

The Election Commission of Pakistan, tasked to hold polls in the country, has now released a comprehensive report of the pilot project, in order to determine if the facility can be extended to all constituencies in the next general elections. So, what’s in the report?

· There are over seven million overseas Pakistanis. Yet, on by-election day, in October, only 7,461 people registered online to vote in 35 constituencies – 11 seats for the national assembly and 26 for provincial.

· On polling day, a total of 6,233 votes were cast, out of 7,461.

· The top five countries from where the online votes were cast are United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. 

· In order to ensure the secrecy of the vote, the entire process of the I-Voting was secured through encryption and decryption.

· For a citizen to vote, a Machine Readable Passport (MRP) was compulsory. The ECP notes that due to this condition approximately 15 per cent of the potential voters of 35 constituencies were deprived of voting. Similarly, dual nationals possessing only a CNIC were not able to register themselves.

· The I-Voting system was difficult to use for the working/labour class. Such individuals, adds the ECP, did not have IT-based proficiency and skills due to which the registrations were low.

· On the day of the election in October, National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) reported cyber attacks on the I-Voting website “which was intercepted effectively,” the ECP reports states, “however, in future chances of these kinds of attacks will always remain there as a potential hacking threat. Similarly, foreign entities can compromise ballot secrecy and potentially even modify ballot contents of voters in an undetected manner.”

· During the registration process there was no support/call centre available for overseas voters to raise their queries in real time.

· The pilot projects cost an estimated Rs95 million. The NADRA notes, in the report, that if the facility is to be extended to the whole of Pakistan, next election, then the cost could go up to Rs150 million or more.

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